Dylan Thomas: A Centenary Celebration is a collection of specially commissioned essays celebrating the poet's life and work, and exploring his lasting legacy. Edited by his granddaughter, Hannah Ellis, the book is arranged thematically and includes a wealth of material: essays from noted biographers such as David Thomas and Clive Woosnam explore Thomas's lasting legacy both at home and abroad, and Welsh poet laurete Gillian Clark reflects on the impact of the seminal "play for voices", Under Milk Wood. The book also includes an essay by poet Owen Shears and BBC Radio 6 presenter Cerys Matthews, as well as numerous testimonies and poems from the likes of former president Jimmy Carter, Phillip Pullman, and actor Michael Sheen.
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea in 1914. Becoming a journalist after leaving school at 16, he caught the attention of the literary world with "Light breaks where no sun shines" in 1934. In 1937 he married Caitlin Macnamara, and their relationship was documented in the 2008 film The Edge of Love. In the 1950s, Thomas travelled to America, gaining fame through his readings. In 1953 he became gravely ill in New York and fell into a coma from which he did not recover. There are a number of theories surrounding his death, though most assume he died of alcohol poisoning. With a foreword by comedian and former Monty Python's Terry Jones, Dylan Thomas: A Centenary Celebration is a rich and personal reflection on the lasting legacy of Britain's greatest poet.
Dylan Thomas has always been one of my favorite poets. As a teenager, I owned the whole Caedmon series of Thomas reading his own verse and that of others, and I played it over and over. Last year marked 100 years since his birth, and this collection of essays is in celebration.
Overall, I was disappointed in the book. Most of the essays covered familiar biographical territory, and none of them were what I would consider literary criticism that would shed light on any of Thomas's poems. I was mildly interested in one essay on plagiarism: when he was very young (12-18), Thomas apparently plagiarized a number of poems that have now been purged from his collected works. Most of them had been printed in children's magazines, and Thomas had made minor changes--the kind of thing my students do with their papers. A few reminiscences of Wales and Thomas's early life were a pleasure to walk through, like a familiar path. I can't, however, recommend the collection to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of Thomas and his work, or to anyone coming newly to his poems.
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